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Do Illegal Aliens Have Constitutional Rights?

Courts Have Ruled They Do

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Do Illegal Aliens Have Constitutional Rights?

Tensions rise along Mexican border.

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Do not let the fact that the term "illegal aliens" does not appear in the U.S. Constitution lead you to believe that its rights and freedoms do not apply to them. The courts have held otherwise.

Often described as a "living document," the Constitution has repeatedly been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, federal appeals courts and Congress in order to address the ever-changing needs and demands of the people. While many argue that "We the People of the United States," refers only to legal citizens, the Supreme Court has consistently disagreed.

Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886)
In Yick Wo v. Hopkins, a case involving the rights of Chinese immigrants, the Court ruled that the 14th Amendment's statement, "Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws," applied to all persons "without regard to any differences of race, of color, or of nationality," and to "an alien, who has entered the country, and has become subject in all respects to its jurisdiction, and a part of its population, although alleged to be illegally here." (Kaoru Yamataya v. Fisher, 189 U.S. 86 (1903) )

Wong Wing v. U.S. (1896)
Citing Yick Wo v. Hopkins, the Court, in the case of Wong Wing v. US, further applied the citizenship-blind nature of the Constitution to the 5th and 6th amendments, stating ". . . it must be concluded that all persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to the protection guaranteed by those amendments, and that even aliens shall not be held to answer for a capital or other infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law."

Plyler v. Doe (1982)
In Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law prohibiting enrollment of illegal aliens in public school. In its decision, the Court held, "The illegal aliens who are plaintiffs in these cases challenging the statute may claim the benefit of the Equal Protection Clause, which provides that no State shall 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.' Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is a 'person' in any ordinary sense of that term… The undocumented status of these children vel non does not establish a sufficient rational basis for denying them benefits that the State affords other residents."

It's All About Equal Protection
When the Supreme Court decides cases dealing with First Amendment rights, it typically draws guidance from the 14th Amendment's principal of "equal protection under the law." In essence, the "equal protection" clause extends First Amendment protection to anyone and everyone covered by the 5th and 14th Amendments. Through its consistent rulings that the 5th and 14th Amendments apply equally to illegal aliens, they also enjoy First Amendment rights.

In rejecting the argument that the "equal" protections of the 14th Amendment are limited to U.S. citizens, the Supreme Court has referred to language used by the Congressional Committee that drafted the amendment:
"The last two clauses of the first section of the amendment disable a State from depriving not merely a citizen of the United States, but any person, whoever he may be, of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, or from denying to him the equal protection of the laws of the State. This abolishes all class legislation in the States and does away with the injustice of subjecting one caste of persons to a code not applicable to another. . . . It [the 14th Amendment] will, if adopted by the States, forever disable every one of them from passing laws trenching upon those fundamental rights and privileges which pertain to citizens of the United States, and to all persons who may happen to be within their jurisdiction."
While illegal aliens do not enjoy all of the rights granted to citizens by the Constitution, specifically the rights to vote or possess firearms, these rights can also be denied to U.S. citizens convicted of felonies. In final analysis, the courts have ruled that, while they are within the borders of the United States, illegal aliens are granted the same fundamental, undeniable constitutional rights granted to all Americans.

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